(Editor's Note: The following sermon, taken from Flora's "Resurrection Service", contains theological insight and references from the religious teachings of the Swedenborgian religion, a.k.a. Church of the New Jerusalem)
Resurrection Service for Flora Waelchli Odhner
Delivered January 24, 1982, Bryn Athyn, PA, USA by the Rev. Kurt H. Asplundh
The opening words of the 121st Psalm are a beautiful expression of trust and true faith. "I will lift up mine eyes unto the mountains whence cometh my help. My help is from the Lord, who made the heaven and the earth" (Ps 121: 1, 2). Here is an acknowledgement of the Lord as the inner source of strength for our life; here, too, is the knowledge that we must seek his strength through our own efforts to elevate our minds toward higher loves. There are two worlds, but one Creator. Through our lifetime, the Lord seeks to lead us from earth to heaven even before we put off the natural body, so that when that transition from one world to the next comes, we can make the crossing over without regret. For heaven, not earth will be our eternal home.
Yet the earth is a wonderful creation, full of beauty and rich variety. The reason is that "the universe with all its constellations, atmospheres, and three kingdoms, is nothing else than a kind of theater representative of the Lord's glory which is in the heavens" (AC 3000). It is a measure of man's wisdom that he is able to recognize that "the earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof," We have been granted the capacity to see what is of Divine purpose and everlasting value in the things of this world. This is a uniquely human capacity and is given to man alone because his soul is immortal. Therefore, while life on earth must someday end, we must live our life as if it never ends. Only then can we learn to lay up for ourselves life's true treasures, which will not rust, rot or be lost in time. Such treasures are a love of God, of truth for its own sake, conjugal love, parental affection, a life of service, to be content in the stream of providence, enjoyment of Divine gifts, and many more. These serve as well in the next world as in this.
If these are the riches garnered from life's harvest, the time of death and departure from this world is a welcome release.
We pause, today, to reflect on the passing into spiritual life of a New Church woman whose years on this earth have been long and full. We rejoice in her resurrection to life eternal and the peaceful awakening to an eternal springtime. Flora Waelchli Odhner, born in the New Church and devoted to its doctrine and life throughout her 84 years, well understood the limits of life on this earth. In her poetry, for which she was well known, she once said of old age:
The years have bound their fetters to our limbs
* * * * * *
Nor should this serve to justify complaint;
It is a state that was to be foreseen - one to accept
And utilize in full tranquility.
Long since our souls had known the need to build
More stately mansions, founded not
On Nature's soil and sun
(Build Thee More Stately Mansions)
It was to the building of "more stately mansions" of our Heavenly Father's house that Flora Odhner seemed to dedicate her life while on earth. In truth, while we live here we are building the spiritual home in which we will dwell to eternity. This home is constructed not of bricks or wood, but of affections and loves, of strong principles drawn from the Word, and the delight of uses humble as well as grand. Such are the qualities of a happy home on earth and they are the very substance of our eternal dwelling place. It is to these qualities that the Psalm refers where we read: "Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it" (Ps 127)
This home in heaven which the Lord builds for us, exactly fashioned to our eternal character of life, is a home for two. Our marriages continue after death. And while death of one partner before the other brings a brief time of separation, where partners shared a genuine love and looked to an eternal union, it is but a matter of time before they are reunited forever, for, when they meet again, they reunite and love each other more tenderly than before…" (CL 321).
Flora Waelchli, third child of the Reverend Fred Waelchli, and Loyal Odhner, second son of the Reverend Carl Theophilis Odhner, were married in 1917 and enjoyed nearly 51 years of married life together before the death of Loyal in 1968. Ten children were born of this marriage, calling for stamina, wisdom, and much sacrifice in their upbringing on the part of both mother and father.
While family and domestic responsibilities demanded a great deal of energy and attention, Flora Odhner did not limit her interests to the home. She had a lifelong interest in the doctrines of the New Church, and being a well read and literate woman, she devoted herself to study of the Writings as time allowed. She loved poetic expression, and the manifestation of beauty in God's creation often was the basis of her own poetic efforts.
True to the feminine instinct, needlework was another source of joy in her life. With creative skill she fashioned many lovely pieces of handwork as well as knit the garments to keep her loved ones warm. She was a woman of culture, enjoying the consideration of ideas and opinions. Her intellectual interests coupled with an indomitable sense of humor were enjoyed by many friends. Though she gave up much to care for the needs of her family, even to the end of her life, she was uncomplaining and always welcome company.
It is these and many other commendable qualities that she carries with her to the spiritual world. Here, she will resume the life she has left in this world. Happily, the pain of aging limbs will be gone, never to return. And, as she continues in the spiritual world she will once again return into the flower of young womanhood, for to grow old in heaven is to grow young.
The past 13˝ years since her husband's death have been lonely years, but the wonder of the Lord's mercy is that husband and wife can be reunited in the spiritual world. We can imagine their mutual delight in meeting suddenly again after their years apart. How eagerly her husband will wish to show her their spiritual home. We can well imagine that the gardens there, like earthly gardens of by gone years, will be filled with blooms of the world's perpetual spring. Will he tuck he arm in his and say, "Let's go look at daffodils?" There too, she will see again the son who preceded her to the spiritual world and a host of those many friends whose lives on earth she shared and enriched.
One of the wonders of heaven now revealed to us is that it is the delight of everyone "to share his blessings with others." (HH 399). Flora Odhner will now be able to re-enter a circle of dear friends who shared with her and her husband the ideals and aspirations of the New Church.
When we die the life that was begun in this world then continues, but with new freedom. We are set free from the limitations and frustrations of physical weakness or old age. The mind also is released from the distracting concerns and anxieties of natural existence. In the spiritual world we truly need to "take no thought for the morrow" (Matt. 6:34) Death is a gateway to a full and more abundant life than can ever be given us on earth. As the writings declare: "The death of the body is only the continuation and …the perfection of life" (AC 1854).
For the New Churchmen, then, blessed with sure knowledge of the reality of eternal life and its many wonderful mercies, the death of a loved one is not a grievous thing, especially when that one has completed a life of many useful years. We can be especially willing to give up, for a brief time, our association with one whose partner in marriage has gone before. The state of a widow, the Writings say, "is more grievous than that of a widower" (CL 325) although the case may outwardly appear the opposite. "A widow," we are told, "has no one to receive the love in which she is as a woman…" (CL325). With entrance into the spiritual world, this "more grievous" state is remedied for after death, the Writings declare, "two married partners …meet, recognize each other, (again) consociate, and live together" (CL 48a). If theirs has been a truly conjugal relationship, they enter into spiritual life together, and a future life to eternity with its states of ever-deepening perfection and delight stretches before them.
Swedenborg was privileged to speak with angel partners whom he observed in the heavens. At a distance they appeared to him as innocent infants adorned with garlands of flowers. As they approached they were seen as adults clothed in garments embroidered with flowers. An atmosphere of springtime surrounded them, mingled with the fragrance of garden blossoms. They said to Swedenborg: "We have been partners now for ages, and continually in the flower of age in which you now see us." They led Swedenborg to homes in that angelic society where were partners in the same flower of age as themselves. The man then said: "In the world, these wives whom you now see as maidens were old women: and their husbands, now seen as young men, were infirm and old. They have all been restored by the Lord to this flower of age because they mutually loved each other and from religion shunned adulteries as enormous sins." (CL 137:7).
It is our fond hope to think of those happily married couples whom we have known in the church becoming as this angelic pair, devoted partners, looking to the Lord alone in their marriage, and becoming increasingly strong and beautiful in the performance of heavenly uses. And does not this hope inspire us with a similar hope for our own future life. May the happy reunion that is Flora and Loyal Odhner's today, amid the springtime blossoms of some heavenly garden, strengthen our resolve to seek the promise of a love truly conjugial in our marriage. Such a marriage is pleasing to the Lord. "Chaste marriages are the delights of heaven," We are told. "they are its seminaries, and…they are its supports" (AE 1002:3)
As we think of a married couple being reunited after death's separation, we are reminded of the Psalm that hints at the beauty and peace of every heavenly home: "How lovely are thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts. My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord; My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. Yea, the sparrow hath found a house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine alters, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God. Blessed are they that dwell in Thy house…" (Ps 84: 1-4)
May there be a blessing today. Amen